The 2018 NFL league year is upon us and with that, the hustle and bustle that was the legal tampering period is over and teams can make their reported free agency signings official. With the dust settling from a few hectic days of reports, we at Pro Football Focus take an in-depth look at some of free agency's biggest deals in our exclusive 2018 Free Agency Deal Grader.
Taken into our deal grades here are many contributing factors, including but not limited to scheme fit for the player signed, contract value and salary cap hit, PFF's overall grades for both player and team, and several other facets.
For more in depth insight all the league’s free agents, check out the 2018 PFF Free Agent Guide, a part of your PFF Edge or Elite subscription.
Dion Lewis signs with the Tennessee Titans
Contract details: 4-year, $20-million
What it means for Lewis:
RB Dion Lewis’ stint as a leading back, though limited to just his 2017 campaign with the New England Patriots, will likely come to a close as he transitions into more of a change-of-pace role behind Derrick Henry in Tennessee. However, even with Henry as new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur’s bell-cow, Lewis is still in line to have a positive impact in the Tennessee Titans’ offense.
At 5-foot-8, 195-pounds, Lewis is the typical slasher back with great short-area quickness and acceleration, providing the towering Henry (6-foot-3, 247-pounds) much-needed lightning to his thunder. Lewis ranked No. 1 in PFF’s elusive rating (73.2) among running backs with at least 165 attempts. He also ranked No. 3 in yards after contact per attempt (3.17) and tied for fifth in forced missed tackles on the ground (42) across his 180 carries this past season.
Lewis’ dominance also extends into the passing game, which will also complement Henry’s skill set quite nicely given his inexperience catching the football out of the backfield. Over the last three seasons, Lewis has caught 85 passes for 696 yards, averaging 1.65 yards per route run in said span. Conversely, Henry has averaged just 1.08 yards per route run and caught 24 passes in his two-year career.
With Henry taking a bulk of the early-down carries, the oft-injured Lewis will have a better chance of avoiding the injury bug in 2018 while still having ample opportunities to make plays with the ball in his hands.
What it means for Tennessee:
Having Lewis take on an increased pass-catching role and complementing Henry’s inflicted bruises with swift jukes will surely stimulate significant strides from quarterback Marcus Mariota and the rest of Tennessee’s offense.
Having a such a dynamic two-headed monster at his disposal, LaFleur can take a lot of the pressure off of Mariota and put the former first-rounder in situations to succeed at an increased rate (i.e. play-action passes). Also, the addition of Lewis to the passing game will give Mariota a strong dump-off option on key downs and a premier target on screens and short routes into the flat.
Set to make $5 million per year on average (without incentives), Lewis will earn top-10 running back money in 2018, which, at face value, can appear a bit much for a No. 2 back. However, given that new San Francisco 49ers running back Jerick McKinnon, who possesses a similar skill set to Lewis, will make an additional $2.5 million on average with his deal, Tennessee may have come away with a steal in Lewis if he can stay healthy.